A fascinating real-life tale presented self-consciously in popular mode.


Abhishek Bharate with Sunny Pawar


Like Queen of Katwe, this is a mainstream movie based on a true story and with a child as its central figure. In theory, Lion is the one which should seem the more convincing. That's because taking place in India for half of its length it does what the earlier film with its African setting failed to do: it is performed in the language of its location translated in subtitles whereas Queen of Katwe opts for English as the predominant language throughout. But since Mira Nair has rooted her piece in the authentic poverty of Uganda, it is that film which seems real whereas Lion in its look and in its writing belongs entirely to the realm of synthetic popular entertainment.


Sunny Pawar is a competent young actor who plays the part of five-year-old Saroo which is in truth the leading role in this film. But, while his ability is not in doubt, the very first shot of him in the Indian landscape is a prettified one and, whatever sufferings may be depicted in this film, we are all too clearly in an artificial world. Here everything including the music score by Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka is geared to gaining tears. And gain them it probably will because being emotionally manipulated in the cinema appeals to so many audiences.


This film's title is neatly explained at the end but it remains inappropriate to the extent that it may lead some audiences to expect a tale of African adventure. In fact, the tale told in Lion is of a child becoming separated from his mother and family and ending up in distant Calcutta. This happens when he is too young to be able to identify his home town and subsequently he is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Saroo grows up to be played by Dev Patel and in the second half of the film he becomes obsessed with tracing both the place where he was born and the mother he had through chance left behind. It's an obsession that comes at a cost to the relationship he has developed with an Australian girl, Lucy (Rooney Mara).


The screenplay by Luke Davies seems strangely incomplete in its detailing of this relationship between Saroo and Lucy and also in its exploration of the difficulties experienced by Saroo's adoptive mother with a second adopted child. Instead, it concentrates on what is almost an advertisement for Google Earth as Saroo turns to this source to trace his origins. The eventual homecoming as presented here is a contrived set piece which will doubtless leave those content to take it at face value in floods of tears. So be it, but, whereas I was touched by Queen of Katwe, not even the talented cast could persuade me that director Garth Davis had created a film of heart rather than of calculation. Nevertheless, I shall be greatly surprised if Lion is anything less than a box-office hit.




Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, Tannistha Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Khushi Solanki.


Dir Garth Davis, Pro Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder, Screenplay Luke Davies, from the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, Ph Greig Fraser, Pro Des Chris Kennedy, Ed Alexandre de Franceschi, Music Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka, Costumes Cappi Ireland.


The Weinstein Company/Screen Australia/See-Saw Films/Aquarius Films/Sunstar Entertainment-Entertainment.
118 mins. Australia/UK/USA. 2016. Rel: 20 January 2017. Cert. PG.